Among the first victims of the untimely axe of Osbornomics has been the Future Jobs Fund. We have a particular interest in this in Barnsley as it was born here, as part of the impact of the ‘Houghton’ review into worklessness chaired by our leader. It is – or as I should get used to saying it ‘was’ – a scheme to create employment to get the long term unemployed and the young unemployed into the world of work. To give them the experience and habit of working after years of not having done so or in some cases simply never having done so. It offered a job, assistance in training and skills and a guided path into other employment. More than a third of our local intake from 6 months ago have moved into other paid work already. Our experience, as with other areas doing this, was that it was proving successful in what it aimed to do. At a stroke, the ConDem coalition has cut it.
This may seem a small and unremarkable cut to a new government programme, but to me it is hugely significant, especially coming as it does in the first rushed cuts. It sends out a clear signal about the relative priority jobs will have against cuts. The worries we all have, about the impact of unemployment on the economy, about the lack of real compassion for the labour market that Conservatism has always shown and about the future of communities which rely on the public sector, will not be eased by this.
The incoming government has been quick to draw an analogy between national economics and household economics. Using phrases like ‘living within our means’ and ‘mortgaging our future’ (ironically I dislike this analogy because any household with a mortgage has vastly more debt than the nation compared to the income it brings in.) They do offer us the chance for some interesting comparisons though.
You would never, in a household income crisis, reduce the amount of work you were doing. No aspect of income would be cut. Reduce costs, yes, borrow, probably, invest in the future, always sensible, look to increase your income, certainly. But cut your potential earnings? What kind of loon would do that? By reducing employment or employability anywhere in the national economy Osborne is doing exactly that.
So if we are to solve the problem with a homespun solution, by all means let us adopt the domestic model. The fact is, we will not spend our way out of the red, we will not tax our way out either, we will not cut our way out nor will we borrow our way out. Though we will, to some degree, do all these things, ultimately we will work our way out.
It was the abject failure of Thatcherism to recognise this fact in the 1980s that led to the UK’s highest levels of unemployment, to social unrest, societal breakdown and the birth of the dependency culture. It was more expensive, in the end, to wreck local economies than to support them. We must not return to those short-sighted ways. Work is the key: getting people into work, keeping them there and ensuring they earn a fair wage for doing it. It is a truism that we can learn form the last thirty years, which the Thatcherites and Osbornauts still cannot see, that if you don’t pay people to do something, you will end up paying them to do nothing or simply cutting their benefits until they starve. You cannot use withdrawal of welfare to ‘encourage’ people into jobs that don’t exist.
The future of the national economy has always been based on our labour force – that has not changed. The approach of the previous government to do all it could to keep unemployment down was the right one. As the new government signals a change in that approach, we should all be concerned that the future economy will not have room in it for all of us.